Company says they’re following all the rules and regulations
© ADAM MACINNIS – THE NEWS
A test site for natural gas is being drilled in McLellan's Brook.
Without a doubt, there is natural gas in Pictou County – the miners who risked their lives deep in the ground to gather coal knew this well and scientists have verified it repeatedly.
The Pictou Basin is one of three significant coal basins in Nova Scotia. East Coast Energy Ltd. hopes to tap into the once feared gas and turn it into a resource for the future. Two test wells have been given the go-ahead and within four to six months the company hopes to have answers about whether they can make a profit from it.
On the one hand, it can be seen as a positive – something that could create much-needed jobs and generate economic prosperity to this region. But Ken Summers, a member of the East Hants Fracking Opposition Group, says people should be aware of some of the environmental concerns before they embrace this project.
To be clear, no fracking is taking place at the test sites here in Pictou County and there are no plans for fracking. Summers readily admits that, but he said that doesn’t remove all concerns and says in some ways the form of extraction being used creates similar problems to fracking.
Summers lives in the Kennetcook area where test sites were fracked. While it was happening, he says he and his neighbours took little notice, but now he wishes he had spent more time getting to understand it and the risks involved. He’s since done more research and become knowledgeable on the topic.
With fracking, liquid is pumped down into the ground to break apart rock to access gas. That’s not the case with the drilling that’s taking place here in Pictou County. According to a fact sheet on the Nova Scotia Department of Energy website, operators of drill sites sometimes need to pump large quantities of water from coal seams. This dewatering of coal allows explorers to reduce the pressure in the seam and access the natural gas. This water is known as formation water.
According to a Nova Scotia Department of Environment document, formation water has been found to contain high levels of chlorides, arsenic, iron, barium, manganese, TPH, PAHs and may even contain naturally occurring radioactive materials. The document states that chlorides in some cases have been found to be in excess of four times the level of concentrations found in the ocean.
It’s what happens after this water is brought to the surface and the potential that it could escape and harm the environment and quality of water that has environmentalists such as Summers concerned.
Arden Thompson, VP of Operations and Chief Geologist for East Coast Energy Inc., acknowledged that they do expect formation water will come up when they drill the sites.
“Any of the mines that worked here had to pump water from the mines,” he said.
But he doesn’t expect it will be a large amount and said those who have drilled test sites in the past didn’t have a problem.
The water that comes out will be held in a storage tank on site where it will be analyzed by the Department of Environment to determine how it can be disposed of. Until they get to that stage, Thompson said they don’t know where that water will go. According to the Department of Environment, all treatment and disposal operations on-shore would require a formal approval from their department issued under the Activities Designation Regulations.
Thompson said they are making every effort to make sure they follow regulations and handle things properly. In addition to the onsite tank, there is secondary containment to prevent any spills of the foundation water.
“It’s all pretty well regulated,” Thompson said.
He said inspectors can show up at any time and have already made visits to the site to ensure the work is being done properly.
He said if people have questions about the process they’re happy to answer them.
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Natural gas facts
What is it?
Natural gas from coal is made up almost entirely of methane according to a Department of Energy fact sheet. Most of the gas is stored within the molecular structure of the coal and is prevented from being released by overlying rock or pressure from water, which is also present in the coal. To extract the gas, water is pumped out to reduce the pressure. With less pressure, the gas separates from the coal and can be extracted.
How did it form?
Natural gas is created as a byproduct when organic materials are transformed into coal over time by pressure and heat.
Pictou County’s natural gas
Tests wells have ben drilled for natural gas in Pictou County since 1979. As of yet, there has been no commercial sale of it. East Coast Energy has tested all water wells within one kilometre of the two proposed well sites, it stated in a release. The company says all 16 wells tested positive for natural gas and these results have been shared with residents.